Thursday, July 1, 2010

Movie Review: Cyrus (2010) - 3 stars

Cyrus is a film which proves that a group of good actors possess the ability to stretch thin material for an entire 90 minutes. The film's premise, based on a screenplay from filmmakers Jay and Mark Duplass, is clever, but, I repeat, thin. It is about a lonely man who, in the company of a fantastic new woman, finds happiness for the first time in years. But she has a troubled son who makes the relationship harder than it should be.

You'd think the story would go further than that, but it really doesn't. The film isn't interested in the psychological case study of Cyrus (Jonah Hill), the overweight, 21-year-old who still lives with his mother Molly (Marisa Tomei). There is certainly the potential here for a film of that nature. Instead, we simply experience the ups and downs of a well-acted triangle of relationships.

The third end of that triangle is John (John C. Reilly), the lonely one who meets Molly at a party while peeing in the bushes. John is hurt because his ex-wife Jamie (Catherine Keener) is finally marrying her longtime boyfriend Tim (Matt Walsh). John consults Jamie a few times later in the film about his new relationship, but for or more less, the ex-wife subplot is thrown to the side after the first couple of scenes. This allows the film to focus on John and Molly's promising new relationship, and the troubles that Cyrus creates along the way.

The film takes liberties with the Cyrus character that would not be allowed in a more psychologically profound film. His earlier years with Molly are alluded to, yet not explained completely. His actions seem inconsistent and irrational, which eventually allows the filmmakers to take the easy way out by merely labeling the character "screwed up." As strange as this may sound, do not expect the film to fully dissect its title character.

There are a few reasons why I can forgive incongruities of Cyrus. For one, it is a comedy, and it made me laugh. Admittedly, the laughs die down a bit when the film hits the halfway point, but let's just say that Jonah Hill draws much more laughs here than he did in Get Him to the Greek. Cyrus is also easy to enjoy because it is aware of itself as a rather slight film; the modest running length of about 90 minutes feels just right. A film less aware of itself would have probably ran fifteen to twenty minutes longer in an attempt to provide answers to questions that we really shouldn't be asking of this film.

But the most important factor behind the satisfaction of Cyrus is the acting. The film has three excellent performances on display. Reilly continues to excel when playing the average man that suits his appearance so well; he strikes a cord of truth here that is unattainable for a lot of other actors. His male co-star, Jonah Hill, delivers what is probably his best performance yet. He hints at dramatic potential that will hopefully be taken advantage of more in the future. And the third star, Marisa Tomei, comes across with the same lovely mixture of authenticity and warmth that earned her an Oscar nomination in The Wrestler.

Despite its attractive premise and well-known cast, Cyrus is not necessarily mainstream filmmaking. Its most distinguishing quality manifests itself in the frenetic camerawork of the Duplass brothers. The two use a very shaky camera, one that often zooms in and out uncontrollably. For me, this technique worked best when it emphasized moments of humor, such as a priceless reaction by John when he watches Cyrus enter the bathroom while Molly is taking a shower. However, at other times - specifically the more dramatic scenes - I wished the camera would have been calmer, allowing the expressions of the actors to resonate in a more fluid manner.

I have a feeling that many will end up being disappointed by the ambition of the film's screenplay. I certainly wouldn't blame them. But because Cyrus is a film made up of real actors with real emotions, I found myself involved with the characters every step of the way. It reminds you how easily an effective ensemble can make a film worth your time.


John Gilpatrick said...

Sounds like you liked this more than I did...I too had a problem with the camera movements. And I had a few issues with the way Hill and Reilley played certain scenes. Their inner comedian would show through during many of the dramatic scenes. But still, an interesting experiment.

Fitz said...

So far with every group I've seen this trailer with "How in the hell is that kid Marisa Tomei's son?" would come up.

Danny King said...

@ John: I thought they played the dramatic moments quite well actually. I should probably go back and re-read your review since you saw the film much earlier.

@ Fitz: Ha, I could see that being funny while watching the trailer. Surprisingly, however, I didn't think twice about it during the film.

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